Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition marked by unwanted intrusive and repeated thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions):
- Obsessions are recurrent or persistent mental images, thoughts, or ideas. The obsessive thoughts or images can range from mundane worries about whether one has locked a door to bizarre and frightening fantasies of behaving violently toward a loved one.
- Compulsive behaviors are repetitive, rigid, and self-directed routines that are intended to prevent the manifestation of an associated obsession. Such compulsive acts might include repetitive checking for locked doors or unlit stove burners or calls to loved ones at frequent intervals to be sure they are safe. Some people are compelled to wash their hands every few minutes or to spend inordinate amounts of time cleaning their surroundings in order to subdue the fear of contagion.
A critical feature in this disorder is an inflated sense of responsibility, in which the patient's thoughts center on possible dangers and an urgent need to do something about them. Over half of patients with OCD have obsessive thoughts without the ritualistic compulsive behavior. Although they recognize that the obsessive thoughts and ritualized behavior patterns are senseless and excessive, they cannot stop them. OCD often accompanies depression or other anxiety disorders. Some patients find that their symptoms subside over time, while others experience a worsening of symptoms.
Associated Obsessive Disorders. Certain other disorders that may be part of, or strongly associated with, the OCD spectrum include:
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). In BDD, people are obsessed with the belief that they are ugly, or part of their body is abnormally shaped.
- Hypochondriasis. People who are hypochondriacs have an excessive fear of having a serious disease.
- Anorexia nervosa. OCD frequently accompanies this eating disorder, where the compulsive behavior focuses on food restriction and thinness.
- Trichotillomania. People with trichotillomania continually pull their hair, leaving bald patches.
- Tourette syndrome. Symptoms of Tourette syndrome include jerky movements, tics, and uncontrollably uttering obscene words.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality. OCD should not be confused with obsessive-compulsive personality, which defines certain character traits (being a perfectionist, excessively conscientious, morally rigid, or preoccupied with rules and order). These traits do not necessarily occur in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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